When everything old is new again

As we watch the spread option take the college football world by storm, perhaps it’s worth taking this advice into account:

As the spread option becomes the soup du jour, the flavor of the month and the catch of the day, the people who rush to implement it MIGHT PROFIT FROM the study of football history.

They might think twice about their decision to copy the West Virginias of the world if they understood why the T-formation (with the quarterback under the center) originally supplanted the single wing.

Bill Barnes of UCLA was the last of the big-time coaches to switch over from the single wing, and in Sports Illustrated, Sept 24, 1962, he told why:

“In the single wing, it was all specialists. You had to have a center who could snap the ball unerringly while upside down. You needed a quarterback who was a vicious blocker, yet fast enough to stay ahead of your backs. You needed a fullback who could spin and pivot like a ballet dancer but had power to rip a line apart. Of course, the tailback was the core of the team. He had to run, pass, kick and even block and he had to be durable enough to stand up under game-to-game pounding. But probably the hardest man to come by was the wingback. he needed a sprinter’s speed, the niftiness of a scatback and the strength to block an end or halfback who might go 200 or 220.

“We just couldn’t come up with all these men, year after year.”

Now, granted that with the spread option there is no longer the need to recruit a blocking back or a wingback, and the fullback’s (running back’s) requirements are not quite so severe. But if you’re going to run the spread option, the need to recruit the gifted tailback (now called the quarterback) is as crucial as ever, and the fact that he’s going to get hit a lot means that the likelihood of his getting injured is greatly increased. Oops. Better recruit several of them.

And then, as we all know, the instant one of today’s young QB’s realizes that he’s not going to be the starter, he’s as likely to transfer as he is to fight for the starting position, and there you are with your entire offense depending on the health of one guy.

It made more sense to T-formation coaches to divide the labor – to assign the passing duties primarily to the quarterback, and the running duties primarily to the other three backs (known then as the fullback and the left and right halfbacks.

It should be noted that while the spread option is enjoying great success at the college level, not everyone is planning to switch to it.

Writes Scott Wolf in the Los Angeles Daily News,

With the spread-option offense growing in popularity, a natural question is whether USC would consider running it.

But offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said injuries to quarterbacks running the spread are one reason USC would probably never use it.

“The quarterback takes a pounding,” Sarkisian said. “It even happened to the Illinois guy (Juice Williams). You lose your quarterback and what do you become? Look at Oregon (without Dennis Dixon) and West Virginia without Pat White?”


Filed under Strategery And Mechanics

3 responses to “When everything old is new again

  1. peacedog

    Good post and good points. The spread is neat and fun but not the paradigm of the future. That isn’t to say that it’s a fad. . . but if there are suddenly twice as many teams competing for spread QBs, some schools are going to be left out in the cold I think. It’s not easy to get a spread QB who can run effectively and pass effectively. I think I’ve seen spread advocates here and there claim otherwise (nothing wide spread), but it’s not true that you can easily get guys who can compete in D1.

    Also, it will be interesting to see defenses continue to adapt. A lot of teams seem to struggle with having LBs make plays in space against Spread runners. It makes me feel warm to have a guy like Rennie Curran around if we’re going to face it more in the future, that’s for sho.


  2. Also, it will be interesting to see defenses continue to adapt. A lot of teams seem to struggle with having LBs make plays in space against Spread runners.

    As the spread spreads (I like puns, too) and defensive coordinators adapt personnel and schemes to keep up, you’d think that at some point in time it will become more difficult to defend power offenses like Georgia’s.

    Also, the flip side of your point about the supply and demand of spread option QBs would seem to be that programs like Georgia would have the opportunity to be more selective about recruiting because the demand for the talent pool for offensive players more suited to I-formation football (pocket passers, tight ends and fullbacks, for example) would decrease.

    This whole thing is crying out for a Moneyball analysis, I think.


  3. peacedog

    I agree, some really smart people with resources need to analyze this stuff.

    My guess is that schools like UGA won’t benefit overmuch from “traditional” QB recruiting, because there will still be enough of those schools that competition stays fierce. But what do I know? We can’t yet predict how many teams are going to move to or from the spread, or a modified spread, in the next few years. It’s fascinating to be observing what might be a significant trend.

    I also agree that trends could make defending against “power” based running attacks more difficult for some teams, so it will be interesting to observe the give and take there at least in the SEC in the next few years.